From Elvis Presley to Buddy Holly: 12 records that turned Bob Dylan into an icon
Bob Dylan is an enigma and a songwriting genius to boot, the amount of artists that grew up hero-worshipping his creations is endless. His prowess is nothing short of admirable. Just as he has been an inspirational figure to so many, there were also a bucket load of artists that the man himself grew up listening to, a collection of musicians that helped transform Robert Zimmerman from Minnesota into the star of Greenwich Village.
President Barack Obama once perfectly encapsulated the greatness of Dylan when he said: “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.” That statement is unequivocally true, and there will be few that have the temerity to disagree with Obama’s praise. One thing that stands Dylan apart and puts him into his own lane is his wild longevity. Last year saw the bohemian singer-songwriter release Rough & Rowdy Ways which reiterated his importance in contemporary music.
In 1986, Dylan opened up to Interviewabout the albums that helped shape him into the legendary artist that we see before us. He was already a bonafide all-time great of music by this point in time and, 35-years-on, Dylan has only carried on being the gift that keeps on giving. The feature is full of trivial gems like “Salesmen who slap you on the back and wink” being his ultimate pet peeve, but Dylan also offers up twelve records that influenced his career, a selection that provides a glorious glimpse behind his mask of secrecy.
Bob Dylan has never been shy about his adoration for Elvis Presley, and it’s unsurprising that The King’s track ‘Mystery Train’ features on the list. Elvis indirectly gave him the confidence to chase his dream and confirm the idea that anything was possible. When The King passed away in 1977, it hit Dylan harder than most, and this sense of sadness loomed over Dylan as he descended into a state of grief which left him unable to speak for an entire week.
Elvis was one of Dylan’s earliest influences, hearing ‘Hound Dog’ for the first time on the radio as a child would prove to be a pivotal moment which would introduce him to the world of rock ‘n’ roll. From that day onward, he knew that he wanted to emulate Presley in some form. He would later recall that life-changing moment, explaining: “When I first heard Elvis Presley’s voice I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody and nobody was going to be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.”
Woody Guthrie is the ultimate folk pioneer. Without him breaking down new territory, whether Bob Dylan would have gone on to have such a dynamic career or would have followed a different route remains unknown. While Elvis helped Dylan fall in love with music, Guthrie helped forge the sound that he would make his own and bring to millions of new ears. Guthrie’s track ‘Tom Joad’ makes Dylan’s list and the storytelling nature of the song means it an understandable choice for the freewheelin’ troubador.
Bob once waxed lyrical of his idol: “His repertoire was beyond category. Songs made my head spin, made me want to gasp, for me it was an epiphany. It was like I had been in the dark and someone had turned on the main switch of a lightning conductor.”
Another artist that Dylan gave some love for was Hank Williams. The iconic country singer is a crucial source of inspiration for many of the artists that came out of the New York scene in the 1960s and beyond, and Dylan was no different. His work has been widely covered by some of music’s greatest and Dylan remains a fan to this day. “I started writing songs after I heard Hank Williams,” Dylan once declared. “Even at a young age, I identified with Hank Williams.” When Williams passed away, Dylan said that “it was like a great tree had fallen.”
Little Richard’s rock ‘n’ roll classic ‘Lucille’ is a track that Dylan would have impossible to leave off, and this song is doubtlessly one of the most seminal pieces of music in modern history. Little Richard’s anthems lit the world up and made it a more illuminating place thanks to his presence. Following his death in 2020, Dylan was devastated and penned a truly heartfelt grief-stricken statement. “I just heard the news about Little Richard and I’m so grieved,” Dylan wrote in a post on social media. “He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was only a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I would do.”
Dylan added: “I played some shows with him in Europe in the early nineties and got to hang out in his dressing room a lot. He was always generous, kind and humble. And still dynamite as a performer and a musician and you could still learn plenty from him. In his presence he was always the same Little Richard that I first heard and was awed by growing up and I always was the same little boy. Of course he’ll live forever. But it’s like a part of your life is gone.”